Since last year, I started writing down stories about people I met in the street, strangers I shared some kind of meaningful interaction with. My collection goes from bus drivers to homeless people to people I couldn’t really grasp what their life was. Most of these encounters gravitate around the concept of care, because most of the sources of interactions were some requests or offers of help. “Could you help me find the way home?” “Do you need a lighter?” “Are you okay?”.

I started really treasuring the power of talking to strangers, of helping each other out in the details or totality of our struggles. I got quite keen on leaning into those interactions, letting myself discover and be discovered by my new companions. I even started to look out for them, going out of my home fully open to happily cross trajectories with strangers. But at the same time, I also started reflecting on what it means to be there for others, what are the boundaries and how do you create the boundaries when maybe you want to keep your own trajectory. I also started feeling very guilty for the missed occasions and partial care I could give at times. The two stories I bring here reflect the duality I feel in talking to and helping strangers, the joy these interactions bring me and the struggle I feel in turning my back at times.

Talking about this with a friend with whom I share a passion for care politics, I started reflecting on the boundaries of care, on its margins. I don’t think I reached a conclusion, I’m way far from it, but I also think this is a topic to be explored by physically perceiving the margins. Talking to strangers, maybe helping them, maybe sitting in the discomfort of not being able to do so. Leaning into the discomfort, leaning into others.


Andrea told me she has no luck when people leave her

And people always leave her

I told her I'm sorry many times, I turned my back and ran.

She didn't know anyone in Vienna and she didn't know where she could sleep that night

But my head hurted and my heart was sinking and I felt sometimes I can't hold that much for others.

I thought I could be a better person for Andrea.

I went with her inside the hotel and I accepted to pay for part of her stay and when the hotel refused her I walked calmly next to her listening to her struggle and I gave her suggestions and asked about her life but when the first hotel was no hope and the other down the street too expensive I ran to catch the last subway and the little sleep I can get before other strangers come and sleep into my house. I hate feeling that help is something I can give in crumbles. But I also feel Andrea dropped into my life and i tried to collect her need, which flooded the streets, and I tried to tell and believe that it was alright and she might find a hostel and she might find somebody to store her pain for the night but I feel that person cant be me no sir .

Andrea by the way is sixty, she's from Frankfurt and has been in Vienna for a week. She doesn't know anybody in the city and her time here hasn't been so kind to her. In the recent past she's been in the hospital four times because of her leg. People always leave her. I did too, at a crossing between a hotel and the subway stop. This text comes from a place of guilt and cheap beer and empty stomach. Andrea spoke well articulated English and apart from her situation seemed a fancy put together german. When I told her I had to leave she paused in silence and told me about the people that left her. I waited for her goodbye, for her to accept my departure as a star crossing or fate or just two strangers keeping their trajectories but she didn't give me one. She didn't really look at me. I waited and repeated my apologies and on the tenth time I turned my back left. I tell myself it's okay and Andrea might have found a comfortable chair in a fancy hotel lounge and drank herself to sleep. Or so I hope.


Lola and I didn't lock eyes until the end of our flight. She was sitting in the row behind me , and when we arrived at Vienna Airport, fifteen minutes later than expected, she panicked. Her neighbor asked her what was wrong, so she unveiled the cause of her desperation. Because of the plane's delay, an issue with ice on the track at the departure, she lost her flixbus to Graz and she was now stuck in Vienna for the night. That's when I joined the conversation, and I invited her to sleep at my place until the next bus in the morning.

Which signaled the point our eyes met.

I don't think she took me seriously at the beginning, she kept repeating that she was stuck here, that she was stuck here, that she was stuck here. She kept moving her eyes from me to her neighbor to the people packing their belongings in their carry ons. I told her it was okay and I could help her figure it out, if she wanted to. She pondered my offer for a bit. She seized my looks, whether I could be trusted or not. I stuffed four days of visiting my hometown and working into a 25 liter backpack, used and dirty, with a pumpkin from my grandmother’s garden peeking on the top. I guess she realized pretty easily I was harmless. Also, we quickly discovered we shared the warmth of Southern Europe and a whole lot of confusion towards Austrian culture, a struggle that made us feel closer. Trusting her felt easy. I texted my flatmates about letting her stay on our sofa bed in the living room. We're used to having a busy schedule of guests and visitors from different levels of closeness (Lola so far has been the furthest though). Anyway, my flatmates agreed to Lola joining our home for the night, on the condition that she would share with us her take on the trolley problem, “to understand if we can trust her”. Sure, because that’s what you talk about at 1am after losing your bus home and remaining stuck with a stranger.

But that’s what we did, on the train from the airport to the city center, and then from the main station to my place. Although she panicked at first in front of the philosophical dilemma, we then started hypothesizing the different variables that could take place and softened into each other reflections on maximizing good and ethics. As we unveiled our questionable choices on saving five people by killing one or vice versa, we started to accept that it was not so likely that one is going to rob or kill the other in their sleep. We could sleep sweet dreams in the same apartment until her bus arrived. We shared a cigarette and stories from our international student repertoire, exchanged phone numbers for future occasions. At home, I made her a bed in the living room, tea, and gave her clean towels to shower. We talked briefly and then I went to sleep.

When I woke up in the morning Lola was gone, a thank you note the only trace of her staying. We texted about my hypothetical visit to Graz, both aware it will likely not happen. But it doesn’t really matter, or at least not to me. What I prized of it though was something she told me on the way out of the airport, as the group of passengers from our flight thinned out. Lola told me it was like that game where you pass somebody a ball and then it’s their responsibility to pass it on to somebody else and after that somebody new, to keep the ball away from the ground through as many people as possible. She felt I now passed her the ball of “help a stranger in need”, and that she’s going to now look out for a new person to pass it to. That she’s going to look out for the scared person in the back row, and maybe offer them a temporary shelter.